How to Lose a Job Offer in One Fell Swoop

UPDATED: October 13, 2015
PUBLISHED: June 5, 2015

Twenty years ago, you would’ve talked to family, friends or colleagues about two job offers that you were weighing before making a decision. Today you can ask the Internet.

Last month a young engineer comparing offers from tech companies Zenefits and Uber did just that: he anonymously posted to Quora, a question-and-answer website, discussing the pros and cons of each company.

“Zenefits cons: It isn’t a buzzword like Uber. Most people won’t know what Zenefits is (or so I think). I think that isn’t as exciting a brand name to have on your resume when applying to the likes of Google,” he wrote in his lengthy post.

The job applicant received dozens of answers in response—among them, one very surprising response from Zenefits co-founder and CEO Parker Conrad.

“Definitely not Zenefits,” he said bluntly.

He outlined Zenefits’ company values and the type of people they want as team members. Although Conrad went on to edit his post, he rescinded the job offer, partially because he didn’t appreciate the public manner in which the young man handled the situation. (Read the original Quora post here.)

As the anecdote has circulated Silicon Valley and tech media, industry experts have been divided. Did the job applicant commit a major no-no or was he simply utilizing the resources at his disposal? Did Conrad make an emotional, knee-jerk reaction or was he in the right for defending his company so outspokenly?

Joan Snyder Kuhl, founder of Why Millennials Matter and co-author of Peter Drucker’s Five Most Important Questions: Enduring Wisdom for Today’s Leaders, says that this tendency to overshare has been encouraged in millennials since childhood.

“They grew up in a #nofilter environment where they were often encouraged at school and by their peers to share their opinions, feelings, experiences and musings with the world,” she says.

In a study she conducted with Cosmopolitan magazine, it was discovered that seven in 10 millennials say it’s their responsibility to share feedback with brands and companies, whether it’s a good or bad experience. In India and China, 90 percent of millennials feel it is their responsibility to share feedback.

“Their motivation can oftentimes be purely out of altruistic intentions of sharing their experiences or making a difference by offering up their ideas,” Kuhl says.

According to Matt Britton—CEO of MRY, a marketing and social media agency; and author of YouthNation: Building Remarkable Brands in a Youth-Driven Culture—millennials often feel remiss not sharing their personal experiences online.

“They have grown up believing that one will be conspicuous in the absence of transparency,” he says. “For many, if it isn’t shared, it never happened, and every meaningful life event presents a personal brand-building opportunity—job offers included.”

It’s clear there are both pros and cons to this level of transparency.

Kuhl, the Why Millennials Matter founder, says the young engineer was right to compare his opportunities side by side, but she recommends that young job seekers review such choices with a trusted mentor or advisor instead.

“It’s far more helpful to discuss your future and work through your questions and anticipation with someone who knows you well and respects your personal values,” she says.

Britton doesn’t see a problem with turning to online communities for advice, but “applying a healthy dose of discretion is always the prudent path during the sensitive job-seeking process,” he says.

As evidenced by the fact that some viewed Conrad’s response as an unprofessional “tantrum,” this tale of transparency has lessons for today’s leaders as well.

“The Zenefits CEO reacted quite hastily,” Britton says. “It’s always best to let some time pass before responding in an emotional state. The questions raised by the candidate were honest, if not to a fault, but weren’t disparaging to either Uber or Zenefits. This response did not cast Zenefits, a company that prides itself on its culture, in the most positive light.”

Kuhl agrees, warning leaders: “Beware of the opportunities and pitfalls of showcasing your brand in today’s highly visible landscape. You can’t predict the reaction to sharing personal information so publicly.”

Job interview fail? Find out 8 reasons why you didn’t get the job.

Chelsea Greenwood has been contributing to print and online publications as an editor and writer for more than 10 years. A University of Florida graduate, she is the editor of a lifestyle magazine in South Florida.